A Few Minutes With...Ryan Parker

Whether he's tipping his beret & strumming his ukulele to Beyoncè & Beirut, or reciting Shakespearean excerpts in Hawrelak Park, Ryan Parker proves Edmonton's 'Got Talent,' too!

BY EMIL TIEDEMANN

WHY is it that everyone in showbiz is under the impression that they can do it all? Actors try singing, singers try acting, and then there's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, of course! It's a vicious circle that inevitably leads to disaster...most of the time. Remember Crossroads?

But then there's folks such as Edmonton's own Ryan Parker, 28, a virtual Renaissance man who pursues nearly all aspects of his industry...and doesn't suck!

Parker first came to my attention when I caught one of his skits on the locally-produced sketch comedy TV series Caution: May Contain Nuts. Soon after I learned that he was one-third of The Be Arthurs (alongside Sheldon Elter and Bob Rasko), Edmonton's premiere ukulele cover band that in no way pays homage to the late Bea Arthur, other than the name, of course.

You could imagine my disappointment.

The Be Arthurs (pictured below left), gussied up in their intoxicating getup's of tight thigh-high shorts, knee-high socks, and black berets, have carved themselves an interesting little niche in the local music scene, pounding away at their bohemian instruments to familiar tunes by everyone from Guns 'N Roses to Britney Spears. (You can catch them during Friday mornings on 92.5 JOE FM.)

But it don't end there. In '02 Parker co-founded a still-active sketch comedy troupe called Blacklisted, after a chance encounter with Matt Alden at that year's Nextfest. After some line-up additions (in Elter, Dana Anderson, Jeff Halaby, and tech guy Aaron Macri), devising some actual routines, and settling on an official name, Blacklisted launched at the local Azimuth Theatre in early '04.

In fact, it's the Blacklisted troupe that formulated the Caution series, which airs nationwide on APTN. They also take to the stage for live productions at the Varscona Theatre (The Man in Black...listed) during the Fringe, where the team has garnered a loyal fan base.

Caution was the first venture onto the small screen--aside from local news coverage, of course--for Parker, who graduated from both the U of A's Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting program and Grant MacEwan's Theatre Arts program. But he seems more at home with live theatre, appearing over the years in productions of Nevermore, What the Butler Saw, Hamlet, East of My Usual Brain, Mesa, Poptarts, and others.

But before we stroke Parker's you-know-what any longer (his ego, you perverts!), let's ask the man of many talents some questions about himself, about our city, and who'd win in a fight, Edmontonians or Calgarians! (Like we even need to ask!).

Because Parker is also somewhat of a budding photo bug, we've displayed some of his personal shots below. Now, let's spend a few minutes with...Ryan Parker.

Can you pinpoint the moment you decided that you wanted to be a part of the entertainment industry? "I really wish I could pinpoint that pinnacle moment. For me it was more of a gradual thing. From day one (my family will attest) I was always an attention seeker, but I actually didn't take drama until my final year of high school. I had some terrible experiences in junior high and was completely turned off it (in one year we went through five drama teachers...three of which had nervous breakdowns...I saw it as a joke class).

Ironically, I only took it in high school because in the first semester I had a spare, and was told I needed three more credits to graduate...so I went into drama because I thought it was an easy three credits. Well, I show up for the first class, and I'll never forget what my drama teacher said: 'Alright, if you've just signed up for this because you thought it was going to be an easy three credits, well it won't be. This is not going to be easy, this is going to be hard, I promise.' I was like, 'shit,' but turns out, I loved it.

She continued to say, 'I have some rules, and the first one is: Check Your Shit at the Door. I don't care who you think you are outside of this class, but when you walk through these doors, everyone is equal...so leave the egos behind; and if you can't do that, then get the fuck out.' It was probably the first time I ever felt like I was being treated like an adult. High school was all about being judged and judging, and to have a place I could go to everyday for an hour and throw all that shit out the window, it was so freeing.

My drama teacher actually urged me to audition for Grant MacEwan's Musical Theater Program. She called and booked my audition, helped me learn my pieces, and was very confident I would get in. I wasn't so certain on that, but I went anyways. I ended up getting in, and I don't think until half way through that program did I really realize how much I loved it, and that I wanted to do it for the rest of my life."


What kinds of things or people influenced your theatrical and/or musical aspirations (besides Bea Arthur, of course)? "Theatrically: Dawn Sadoway, my high school drama teacher. She's one of the only reasons I had the confidence to pursue this as a career, and without her I really believe I would have never taken that first step, and that was by far the hardest to make. Of course, I had support from my parents, but when you're a teenager that support only goes so far. I would say now my aspirations and influences come from some of my closest friends. Back when we were starting out (in college) I don't think any of us knew where we would be, and I'm so proud of them.

Musically: The Beatles, Johnny Cash, Jacques Brel, and Beirut. Zach Condon of Beirut is a musical genius and although Beirut's albums can be on and off for me, any time I see a live performance (unfortunately, only on the Internet as of yet) I'm blown away by what he is doing. I'm also a sucker for Dirge style of music he composes, it hits me hard, and I can listen to it for hours. Watch this video clip and if you get the gumption, watch all of the videos from this series. They are fantastic, and brilliant marketing."


If there was a famous (or infamous) person you could be roommates with for one year, who would it be, and why (besides Bea Arthur, of course)? "Hmm, that's really hard. I guess either [graffiti artist] Banksy, because he's rad, and after seeing 'Exit Through the Gift Shop,' he's even more rad...go see it. Or Steve Jobs, because he's a genius and has largely played a role in impacting four industries: personal computers with Apple II and Macintosh, music with iPod and iTunes, phone with iPhone, and animation with Pixar. He was a middle-class hippie kid with no college education. He was fired from his own company, before coming back a decade later to save it and turn it into one of the world's most influential corporations, and maybe that would rub off. And if we're talking dead or alive, without a doubt John Lennon...but Yoko is not allowed over...ever."

Can you list your three favourite songs of all-time? "Wow, that's tough. Like really tough. I'm a music dork; I have a massive collection of vinyl, and add to it daily.

I). "I've Got You Under My Skin Medley" by Sammy Davis, Jr. (actually, it's a specific version, a medley version he did and it's off his 'Live at the Coconut Grove' album).

II). "Cliquot" by Beirut (but again, it's a specific performance sang by Edward Droste of Grizzly Bear; on a good day this song can bring me to tears).

III). "Amsterdam" by Jacques Brel (again, a specific performance...after you read the wonderful lyrics watch it again...his performance is beyond excellence). The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" would by runner-up (really, anything off of 'Revolver'...really, anything by The Beatles; they did for music what Steve Jobs is doing for technology).

I could seriously go on forever with favourite songs of all-time. I love music. That was really hard, and now I've found myself listening to tons of albums while I do this interview."


Do you find it more challenging or much easier working with your close friends (in Blacklisted, etc.), as opposed to strangers? "Again, no straight answer. Working with close friends can have its challenges for sure, but at the end of the day I find that the work moves faster and smoother when a group of people already know each other very well. Especially for creating, in regards to Blacklisted...we've gone through so much shit that we don't have to pussyfoot around stuff and we can actually say how we feel about something. It's amazing to have that.

However, there is something nice about working with strangers, because in this line of business they don't stay strangers for too long. And if they do, there's probably good reason...and then you just have to be happy you do contract work. But really, it's such an amazing job; you're thrown into a group of strangers and asked to be as intimate with them as you would with your closest friends and lovers. It's something I could never give up."


Let's be realistic, Edmonton isn't exactly known as a go-to town for making it big in acting or music (yet!). Do you think you'll have to one day abort our city to pursue your field on a larger scale? "I really hope I never have to leave this city. There is so much going on here, I don't see why I ever would. I suppose if the well goes dry I might be forced to find water elsewhere. I think I'll always keep Edmonton as my home base though...even if I did leave I'd make sure it wasn't for too long. And really, if I look at this past season, I've performed in Regina, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Washington, D.C., and in the next year I'll be heading off to London (England), New York, Winnipeg, Calgary, and who knows where else. The best thing about all those contracts is that they originated here in Edmonton, and it's homegrown Edmonton arts that is getting me to see all these amazing cities.

This city is fantastic. Really, if I moved I'd just be doing the same thing in a different city, so why should I move when I can do it here? And the cold, I like the cold...it kills all the bugs and I think it makes us stronger. There is a great sense of community, even in a big city like Edmonton. When the temperature drops below -30, everyone is pulling through it together. You go for groceries or get a coffee, or stop for gas, and you can't help but share a 'What the Fuck?' with the person behind you in line. I think it wakes us up."


What is one thing about Edmonton that you think stands out from other Canadian cities? "The arts community is thriving, theatre especially. The theatre scene is vibrant here. When I work with people that are contracted from out of town, the number one thing they are always amazed at is how great the theatre community is and how much is going on here. And this is by far the best place in Canada if you want to create your own work. There's a hunger for it here, and in turn, a drive for it.

I think it might be because Edmonton has a large population of right wing, the left side has to balance it out and that's why the arts thrive here. Edmonton is also brilliant for festivals... seriously, I mean what other city throws a Winter Festival? It's fantastic. Lastly, the river valley is a STAND OUT for sure...utterly gorgeous. What other city has that many trees in the center of it?"


"...This is by far the best place in Canada if you want to create your own work. There's a hunger for it here, and in turn, a drive for it."

If there was one thing you could do to improve Edmonton, what would it be? "I would get a better transit system going for sure, without a doubt. I know they are working on it, but this city is so far behind on that. I'd also stop making all these damn parking lot malls on the edge of the city. I love the actual city, it's all the new developments I just can't handle. Nobody walks in those areas, it's terrible. Lastly, I'd build a bullet train to Calgary already. I mean come on, that would only make both of our cities thrive. Huge fault on our province for not getting that started 15 years ago.

Sure, the airports will suffer, but shit, we're on borrowed time as it is with fuel. So much fuel is wasted on DRIVING. Other than that I think real improvements need to be made on a much larger scale than Edmonton. If I actually take time to think about how fucked up the world really has become, I actually get really scared...not spooked, but scared. How did we amount to this? It's sad, I really did believe the human race was better than this, but I'm starting to realize we aren't (is that called growing up?)."


Whyte Ave. or Jasper Ave.? "Alberta Ave. I know it's a 'dive' right now, but that's how Whyte & Jasper started off...hookers, druggies and porn shops. Seriously, if anybody has the smarts they should go buy a house down in the Alberta Ave. area, because 20 years from now that house is going to have doubled in value. Whyte Ave. is beautiful during the day (a little too yuppie now for me), but at night it's detestable. Way too many bars, in a two block radius...it's places like Whyte Ave. that make us wish the legal drinking age in this city was 21. At least by 21 you've thrown up enough to know that it's not something you want to do EVERY time you drink.

Jasper is just as bad, more clubby, and I can't stand that crowd, never could. I don't care how nice your car is, or how short your skirt is...not my scene. I'd rather hang out with good friends at a pub or in a home. Alberta Ave. is a good glimpse into what our city actually is. Take a drive down there, it's spectacular."


Where (in life) would you like to see yourself 10 years from now? "Hmm, on the same track as I am now. An equal balance of focus on my personal life and on my career. Of course, I'd like to make enough money to not worry about money, but that's not something that happens. People worry about money no matter how much they have. I try my hardest not to worry about it, and I hope 10 years from now I'm still not worrying about it, and that I'm happy because of that."

And 50 years from now? "50 years from now I hope I have a really solid foundation that I've helped to build (business and pleasure). I hope I'm still in love, have some children and hopefully some grandchildren. Career wise, I hope I've set in motion something that can be carried on by the younger generations, and that I'm there to pass on that torch."

One last question. Who would win in a fight between Edmontonians and Calgarians? (Don't let us down, Ryan!). "All depends on the fight. If it was a hockey fan fight, well I think we all know that Edmonton hockey fans (given our notorious riots) would win...as long as the fight was on a street where they could break store shops and light fires and hang from the street lamps.

Truthfully though, I think Edmonton and Calgary are both beautiful cities. Calgary has those damn mountains and that's hard to compete with...although they also have all those suits. Calgary is white collar, and Edmonton is blue collar. I like that blue collar Johnny Cash kind of pride. It's a better story. But seriously, if we built a bullet train I don't think anyone would want to fight. Don't you think most of that anger comes from how inaccessible we are to each other? Or at least we could meet in the middle and just trash Red Deer...no?"


Thanks, Ryan!

Below is 'The Be Arthurs' Promo Video' (courtesy of YouTube).

PHOTOS #3-6 BY RYAN PARKER
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